Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Birth of our Family

The day we met our son. April 17, 2006

Our story:

Almost 8 years ago, my husband and I began the adoption process for our first son, who I'm calling "E" for privacy concerns. He was placed with us at birth by his birth mother, and what began as our dream come true soon turned into the most difficult and devastating single thing that ever happened to us when his bio father contested the adoption. After a very lengthy and emotional almost 4 years, and a process of 9 judges, our son was removed from our custody and returned to his birth mother. In her custody, he was allegedly emotionally and physically abused, his step father was arrested on child abuse charges, and "E" was subsequently removed from her and given to his birth father who eventually won full custody.

In the year that followed our heartbreaking loss - which to us was not unlike our only child being kidnapped or dying, my husband and I grieved, cried enough tears to fill an ocean and just felt lost. Our life WAS our son... we wrapped our lives totally around him. We had become parents without a child, and without a purpose, and without much joy. Just empty.

It was about a year after that tragedy that we both began talking about becoming foster parents. We thought that it would be a good place to focus our energy and be able to help children in crisis weather the trauma of being removed from their families. See, we'd learned a thing or two about trauma and loss and grief in children. We knew no child could ever replace E, nor that we could love another the way we loved (and still love) him. We had no intentions of ever, ever going down that painful, traumatic road to adoption again either, although we had a very high profile adoption attorney approach us soon after our loss and offer to do a free adoption. It angered us that anyone could even suggest we just adopt another child even though, looking back, I am sure it was offered out of a sense of compassion. In regard to fostering, we figured we could do our best with whichever children came into our lives and care for them and keep them safe until they could safely go home or to other family, but never dishonor our son's memory by "replacing him" with another child.

We went through a pretty intense licensing process where every aspect of our lives - both public and private - was scrutinized. We were licensed in February 2006, and received a call for two boys on the very day our license was approved. We accepted placement, were very, very nervous, and it was somewhat strange and sad having children in the house that we had shared with our boy. And these children were very difficult, one displaying signs of fetal alcohol syndrome and RAD. We were not prepared for that .at.all but we did the best we could, not being a therapeutic home. It was very, very, very difficult and the older child ended up being split from the younger for safety reasons. When we had a date for the boys to return to their family, we made the decision to take a 30 day break from placements and reflect if foster care was really something we wanted to continue to do, and whether we had jumped the gun on being ready to take on that kind of emotional and physical challenge at all while we were still so wounded ourselves. It was an emotional rollercoaster we weren't prepared for.

One week before the last child was scheduled to return to his family, we got a placement call for a 3 1/2 year old who needed an emergency placement - 30 days maximum. Even though my husband and I had discussed taking that break and were pretty firm on it, something tugged in my heart, and I did not immediately say "no". Instead I called my husband at work and asked him what he thought. He told me "do what your heart tells you to do, and whatever that is, I'm with you on it". So I called placement back up and said "yes".

Four hours later a social worker walked in with the cutest, blue-eyed little boy. He was really scared, but very quiet, standing close by the SW as she was dealing with paperwork. It took some time to get him to go into his new room and play with toys or explore as he was so afraid of what was happening to him, and of us, strangers to him. I felt almost an instant attachment to him that I did not with the other two boys, but I kept it in check and guarded my heart. Without sharing too much of my son's story, it turned out that the 30 days temporary placement became long term. The birth parents rights had already been terminated and he lived with a relative. That relative turned out to have problems as well and was not able/willing to work towards getting him back, but would rather him go into an adoptive home. When the relative realized who the foster parents were (our case with E was very public and we supervised visits) that relative was thrilled that we were who the child was being fostered by. We just by chance happened to see our foster son's profile on the state adoption website as an "available special needs child" and we called the agency immediately. We said WE would be willing to be his adoptive resource as we knew, from dealing with his trauma, loss, emotional and behavioral issues already, another move would be incredibly harmful to him. We had no idea what his status was at that time prior to running across the adoption profile online, and the DCF had no idea that we would consider adoption. It so happened the DCF jumped the gun in advertising him for adoption anyway, as the birth father filed a late appeal of his termination from prison, so we had a year's wait until the appeals court determined if the TPR would be upheld or not. It was.

In that year of waiting for the courts, our foster son became our son, we bonded very tightly with each other, and lived life with adoption as the goal. We never made any promises to him or anything as we knew from past experience, anything can and will happen. We guarded our hearts as best we could, but never really let go and stopped worrying about what would happen to him. We got word that the appeals court upheld the TPR in February 2007. We finalized our son's adoption April 16, 2007. He was nearly 5 years old. It still took another year before we could really feel like he was, in fact, our son and stop looking over our shoulders for someone to come take him away too.

Where once we thought we could never love another child with the intensity of love we have for our first son, we discovered our hearts were big enough to love more than one child, once we took a chance on opening it back up again. You never know what God has planned for you. Now when people ask us how many children we have, we often say TWO... one who lives at home, and one who lives in our hearts.


Brighton's World said...

Hello, I happened to click a couple of blogs over and found myself reading your story. I found myself unable to control my tears, imagining myself going through even some of what you and your family have endured.
I'm so sorry for the loss of your son E - it is maddening beyond words when I see an innocent child taken out of a loving home because the birth parent has suddenly (and often momentarily) decided they want the child they abandoned/neglected/abused back.
What you have done since that time is inspirational and beautiful. Your son radiates love and beauty and is a doll!
Sorry to go on. I know you don't know me, but I couldn't help but tell you how much your story touched me.
Bless you and your family - I wish you a lifetime of happiness!!!

Ryansmom said...

Thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot to me. We've learned that life and love is not without risks of heartbreak, and often things just aren't fair.

I do hope that, if nothing else, our story will inspire others to take a chance and reach out to children, like our sons, who desperately needed families to love them and cherish them forever. Every child, especially those who have come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect, deserves to know what it feels like to have the committed and unconditional love of a parent, and to be the center of someone's world...

Take care,

Lisa said...

Hi Dawn! I'm so glad to see you're blogging. You touched my heart. I can't wait to hear more.

Just a FYI...I noticed that you used E's name in the post below this one. Didn't know if you wanted it public.


Ryansmom said...

Thank you Lisa... all fixed. ;-)

Liesl said...

Ahem... to the certain someone who said they were "new at this," well, you'd never know it! Brilliant, enlivening post, Dawn.


Ryansmom said...

Aww, thanks Liesl.